‘The growth of Hastings’: a walk on the outskirts of St Leonards in 1889

The 20 July 1889 issue of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer has a long, anonymous article titled ‘The growth of Hastings, new buildings, a casual survey’. It is in a single paragraph. It begins by taking in effect a walk on the outskirts of St Leonards, and is given below, with this extract ending when it begins to describe the newer parts of Hastings. It may amuse my readers to try to relate the description to a town map.

It is a well-known saying that a Londoner knows next to nothing about his city, and we might well and truly say that many a Hastinger knows but very little of the proportions his town is assuming. We would strongly advise our readers for once in a way to leave their homes and wander on the outskirts of the borough, and they will then realise the force of the remark with which we have prefaced our article. The land where, as children, many people, now old and grey, used to play, is occupied by houses, some of them already almost worn out, waiting to be re-built. During the last four years the amount of house property run up is simply enormous. As the most important part of the additions, we will commence at the West End – that is, Bopeep – and give a review of the whole. Here we find the new pleasure gardens, reaching from 142, Marina, to the Bopeep Hotel, and composed for the most part of lawns, bordered on every side by walks and beds, and overlooking it, facing east, are at the present time six fine mansions, five of which are let, and in a very short time the whole line, consisting of eleven, will be in a condition to be occupied. By the time these are built, a number of semi-detached villas will have been begun on the opposite side of the road, under the cliffs from the Fountain Hotel to the Bopeep Hotel, thus continuing on to the Station that fine line of houses which go so far to make our sea front one of the best, if not actually the best, in England. As a protection to this most valuable property the parade extension – as is also the case at Hastings – has caused the beach to collect in vast quantities, thus forming a natural breakwater, over which it is next to impossible for the sea to flow. Passing further westward, the next building that meets our eye is that huge stucco pile known as the Pantechnicon. This warehouse, with others close by, and the present line of shops, are all erected on the site of the short canal which, many of our readers will recollect, ran the whole length of the Station-road. On it a boat was at one time moored, and the water formed the home of a large number of ducks, as well as the fresh water bath for the juveniles of the West End. On farther, the new steam mills, the Rocket Station, Local Board stables, all erected quite recently, bring us to the now all but completed and much improved railway bridge. Following the road, on the left side only, are buildings at present to be seen, reaching the whole way to the Bull Inn. These include detached and semi-detached houses, and rows of houses, the Steam Laundry being prominent. Turning sharp to the right from Bexhill-road, a new road has been cut, coming out at the top of Maze-hill. So far, however, only about four mansions have been erected, though all of a substantial kind. A small road, shaped crescent fashion, has been the means of causing some builder to speculate, with the result that four houses are on their way to completion. Along the Sedlescombe-road, after passing the blacksmith’s shop, we find that on both sides right on to Silverhill, buildings have arisen, those on the right being, without exception, semi-detached, and those on the left side consisting chiefly of detached villas. At the foot of the hill, to where the London-road crosses at the fountain, and on the site of the old pond, a very substantial line of houses has been erected, affording excellent accommodation for the many working people who of late have emigrated to this part of the town. St Matthew’s Church and Rectory stand out prominently, and on the same side of London-road, we find two or three new houses built out of red brick, while lower down the whole left side of Springfield-road, where was a few months ago a rich field, we now find an Eye Hospital and a series of extremely pretty villas. Indeed, such a change is here noticeable that the spot is hardly recognisable as the same place. Across the field, at right angles to the London-road, and starting from the old Pay Gate, which stood opposite to the Tower Hotel, a new road, flanked on the right sides by a number of finished and unfinished houses, is now made, with a second running at right angles across, one end being at Springfield-terrace and the other at Markwick-terrace. Traversing the first road, we find a great change at the top of Dane-road, for where once was a sand quarry and Jefferies field, there now stand high-class residences, stretching from the Gensing Manor to Brittany-road, and from the same place to Markwick-gardens. Then, again, all the houses from St John’s Church have been built within the last year or so, and in a very short time, in the remaining field space adjoining, a semi-detached house, which at present rears its head in loneliness, will, we have no doubt, soon be the centre of a row of similar edifices. Standing in London-road, just above the Gensing Gardens, and look across the valley towards that comparatively new line of villas in Chapel Park-road, one can hardly realise that but a few years ago one of the finest spots to spend an afternoon was in this very valley, among the trees of what was then Cramp’s Wood, a place there pig nuts – we crave pardon, “truffles” – used to grow in great profusion, and were eagerly culled by the youthful of that day, and greatly enjoyed. But this is all changed, and where the pig nuts grew are now the kitchen gardens of proud villas. The pretty spots in the wood are now traversed by carts and carriages, and form a road which continues the Southwater-road on to London-road. Still another road reaches from Southwater-road over the hill, and joins Cornfield-terrace about midway. A third new way runs out of Chapel Park-road into Cornfield-terrace, and continues on to Tower-road, thus making three high roads across what was formerly luxuriant green. We may here add that the right of way which always existed between London-road into Southwater-road, through the wood, is still there, the difference being that the road is much wider, more easy of access, and better kept, and instead of having to clamber down the steep bank, cross the stream, and mount the other difficult side, a convenient set of steps has been made, and at the foot a handsome rustic bridge created, forming a very pretty picture. At the back of Bohemia-road the off roads have been continued, and, instead of waste pieces of ground, lines of quite respectable small buildings are to be seen…

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